Note: With the Lions in need of a running back, we’ve been examining RBs from this year’s talented draft crop. We’ve studied Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Duke Johnson, Ameer Abdullah and Jay Ajayi. Today, our film series spotlights former Michigan State star Jeremy Langford.
A version of this article was published by the Detroit Free Press.
After a redshirt season, cameos at cornerback and receiver, and two years toiling on special teams, Jeremy Langford finally seized his opportunity to be the workhorse back as a redshirt junior. He did not disappoint.
Following in the footsteps of Le’Veon Bell, Langford became one of the most successful backs in Michigan State history and like Bell, has his eyes set on becoming a difference maker in the NFL.
As the offensive catalyst for a team that went 24-3 in his two seasons as the starting tailback, Langford helped the Spartans win a Big Ten Championship and earn victories in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
Langford carried a heavy workload as the tone-setter for Mark Dantonio’s squad, racking up 568 carries over the past two seasons. He proved durable by starting all 27 contests, while averaging over 20 carries per game in successive seasons.
Langford finished his illustrious career with a school-record 10 straight 100-yard rushing games. He thoroughly dominated Big Ten competition by tallying 16 consecutive 100-yard rush games to end his career.
At February’s NFL Scouting Combine, Langford turned heads by running the fastest 40-yard dash time among RBs. However, the elite 4.42 speed he showed in shorts and a t-shirt doesn’t translate in games, though he certainly has enough pace to turn the corner.
Here’s what Langford’s spider chart looks like. He isn’t as flashy as many of the other highly touted backs because he didn’t have a ton of explosive plays.
Prior to his 65-yard gallop in the Cotton Bowl, Langford’s career long run was 44 yards. He recorded just eight carries of 30 or more yards during his senior year. For comparison, Tevin Coleman had nine touchdowns of 30-plus yards last season.
At 6-0, 208 pounds, Langford could add to his lower body to help him withstand the pounding at the NFL level. He is solid in most facets of the game and runs with a blue-collar like mentality. He rarely dances in the backfield, preferring to take what the defense gives him and move to the next play. He doesn’t look to make splash plays but rather will plow ahead and take chunks of four or five yards to keep the drive humming.
Let’s evaluate Langford’s game to see if he is criminally underrated or just another back in this talented class.
Langford finished his career with 40 rushing TDs, ranking second all-time in MSU history behind only Lorenzo White. Langford ran for 1,522 yards in 2014 (5.5 yards per carry) and 1,422 yards in 2013 (4.9 YPC) to become one of only three Spartan running backs—along with Javon Ringer and T.J. Duckett—to record at least 1,300 yards rushing in back-to-back seasons.
Patience and vision
Langford is better than the average runner in two vital RB specific traits: patience and vision. He has the discipline to allow holes to develop, and the vision to set up blocks and manipulate defenders at the second level.
Here, he jump cuts to his right to allow his lineman to smother the linebacker, then skates forward for an extra three yards.
Langford shows great patience on this second-and-one run. He presses to the outside with his left foot, setting up the block on the edge. This fools No. 28 who bounces outside, clearing up more space for Langford inside. He lowers his head, keeps his legs churning on contact and falls forward.
Langford lacks suddenness and explosiveness out of his cuts, but he has some wiggle to him. He can side step guys and make a man miss in tight quarters.
On third-and-two, Langford should have had no chance to get the first down with two defenders bearing down on him. But he chops his feet, slips, recovers, and falls forward across the 25-yard line for the first down.
Langford lacks instant burst out of his stop-start movements unlike say Ameer Abdullah. Instead, Langford has to gear down and take a few extra steps at times to change directions.
Effort and competitiveness
Langford isn’t a punishing runner or a pile driver but he is unafraid to lower his shoulder if it means extra yardage. He makes up for these shortcomings with great effort.
This is late in the fourth quarter in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game. Some backs would have worn down by now after 20 carries. Not Langford.
He scored on the next play to seal the win. For his career, Langford registered five touchdown runs of 25 yards or longer in the fourth quarter.
Langford runs hard and does a nice job of using his non ball-carrying hand to fend off defenders. He is cognizant to switch the ball to his outside arm, freeing his inside arm for violent stiff arms.
Here Langford is again fighting for extra yardage, spinning off a tackler to keep pushing forward.
It’s not a coincidence that Langford scored 40 TDs on the ground. He usually found his way into the end zone in goal line situations even when the defense loaded up the box to stop him.
On third-and-goal against Penn State, he’s contacted at the three-yard line, but fights off multiple defenders to reach the end zone.
Though he had just 39 career receptions and was used sparingly last year in the pass game, Langford has experience as a receiver. He transitioned to wideout in spring practices before his sophomore season so he has experience running routes and moving around the formation.
On third-down against Purdue, the Spartans split him out as the middle receiver in this trips formation to the left. He runs a quick out against the defensive back and creates separation for quarterback Connor Cook. Langford catches the ball with his hands and then secures it to his body. He shows awareness and intelligence knowing where the first down marker is, and stretches out to move the chains.
Langford showed excellent awareness in pass protection and consistently picked up his responsibility. He must continue to refine his technique especially as a cut blocker, but for the most part he was ahead of the other backs we’ve examined. I saw Langford identify late blitzers from across the formation and stonewall them, allowing his quarterback to make big plays in the passing game.
MSU’s offensive coaches even trusted Langford enough to have him block Ohio State’s highly touted defensive end Joey Bosa a few times in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein lists former first rounder Donald Brown as Langford’s pro comparison. Brown was a similarly sized back with athleticism and quickness coming out of Connecticut, but he’s been a disappointment in six NFL seasons. Some questioned whether Brown lacked the “bulk and leg drive to be a true bell-cow runner at the NFL level.” There is similar concern with Langford’s lower body strength.
Though he has small hands, Langford rarely fumbled because of his solid technique. He protects the ball high and tight and is a technically sound player.
Langford had 616 touches in his career with the Spartans and fumbled just five times, computing to a rate of 1 fumble every 123.2 touches. That’s the second-best career fumble rate of the seven RB prospects we’ve studied, behind only Todd Gurley.
Unlike some of the other backs, Langford played in a pro-style offensive system that featured a ton of inside runs and power plays. He also has experience running out of shotgun when the Spartans went to their spread package. He ran behind a full back at times and as the lone back. This scheme versatility should make him appealing to most NFL teams. His competitiveness and ability to be a special teams contributor will also help him latch onto a team, even if he’s third or fourth on the depth chart at RB.
Langford is a back who can find the hole and give you the yards you would expect. He isn’t going to miss many openings. However, he isn’t much of a creator. If nothing is there, he isn’t going to run over guys and juke others to turn a busted play into an explosive gain. He isn’t a game-changer, therefore he is projected by most as a mid round player.
There are other running backs that will go higher than Langford because they have more natural ability and greater athleticism and/or power. But Langford is a cerebral runner with natural instincts. His patience, vision and determination as an inside runner should not be overlooked. Langford was the RB on NFL Media’s Charles Davis’ All-Underrated team and he’s risen up draft boards in recent months thanks to his impressive 40-time at the combine.
The Wayne native could be one of those players who in a few years everyone wonders how he lasted as long as he did in the draft. Yet with the surplus of RBs, the players who aren’t chosen early may slide down a round or two, where a team will scoop them up and find good value.
Many including Langford himself, hope that team is his hometown team.
Credit to Draft Breakdown for the game footage. All Illustrations and GIFs were created by Marlowe Alter for the purpose of reporting, commenting and critiquing.